In Lincolnshire police have embarked upon a drive aimed at ensuring that as a condition of granting renewals or new licences to each of the county’s shooters, the applicants first obtain a letter from their GP stating that there are no mental health grounds for denying it. The cost will be £60. This follows a Government U-turn on the issue earlier this year, when having first ruled out any question of making shooters pay, it then caved in to pressure from the British Medical Association which had demanded that GPs receive a fee for providing the service. Whilst on the face of it obtaining this sort of clearance would seem to be a sensible precaution in ensuring that guns do not either first get into or remain in the hands of those who might present a threat to the public, there is not much historic evidence to suggest that it will achieve that outcome. For example, nothing in the medical records of either Dunblane killer Thomas Hamilton or Derrick Bird perpetrator of the 2010 shootings in Cockermouth, hinted at the actions that followed. Indeed, one can make a strong case that whilst a GP revealing a history of mental illness in a first time applicant for firearms licence would be unarguably the right thing to do, this has to be weighed in the balance with the potential for some depressed or otherwise troubled shooters avoiding seeking treatment from their GP for fear of then losing their licence and worse still, whilst offering no threat to the public, suffering worsening symptoms.
It has long been case that the people most at risk of death or injury from a legally held gun are the owners themselves. There are in the region of 150 firearm related deaths each year in the UK, of which around three quarters are suicides. Of the remaining thirty or so homicides nearly all are committed with firearms held illegally. In 2017 for example, just nine people were killed by someone in legal possession of the murder weapon. In the same year more than 9000 people were killed or injured by drunks in legal possession of a vehicle. If the aim of asking GPs to consult their records as to the mental fitness of a person to own a firearm is, as seems to be the case, to reduce the risk of death or injury either to the applicant or third parties, then logic screams that the medical profession should also be required to vouchsafe the suitability of those with serious alcohol dependence to be permitted to drive.
But, of course, logic plays no part in any of this, or at least it is a supporting act to the star of the show; politics. The levying of a further charge on legitimate shooters is as good an example as you might wish for of virtue signalling, this time by a public body. The police have to be seen to be acting. They have no answer to countering the proliferation of illegal firearms and the resulting rise in the numbers of shootings or at least not without support from central Government, especially in the form of cash. And in this arena, as in others they have been reduced to this sort of crude “if it saves one life, it’s worth it” flag waving.